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What is Cuong Nhu?

By Jennifer Fenn
Updated May 23, 2024
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Cuong nhu is a Vietnamese form of martial arts. Shotokan Karate, Judo, Tai Chi Chuan, Aikido, Wing Chun, Vovinam, and boxing all have influenced the style of cuong nhu. Cuong nhu translates to “hard soft” in Vietnamese, indicating this blending of several different styles of martial arts. Like many martial arts, the level of a cuong nhu practitioner’s skill is indicated by his or her belt color, with white being worn by beginners and black by experts.

Cuong nhu can be used to protect oneself and develop positive character traits such as discipline, modesty, patience and respect for the self and others. This code of ethics is an integral part of this martial art. The physical aspects of cuong nhu training include various fighting stances, blocks, kicks and punches. Practice can also include sparring, breaking boards, and using various weapons.

Cuong nhu was created in 1965 by Grandmaster Ngo Dong, in Hue, Vietnam. As a child, Dong had excelled at Vovinam, Wing Chun, and Shotokan Karate, eventually earning a black belt. Along with the physical aspect of cuong nhu, Dong emphasized the tenets of community service, respect and self-improvement. Dong hoped to create a philosophy for the young people of his war-ravaged nation. Dong lived by his own philosophy, and in addition to his martial arts studies, earned degrees in biology and chemistry, was a devoted father, and civic leader. He organized the People’s Self-Defense Forces in 1968, with the aim of protecting Vietnamese citizens from the random acts of violence the Vietnam War had resulted in. The People’s Self-Defense Forces helped rebuild the morale and spirit of the Vietnamese people. Dong was an outspoken opponent of communism and was later arrested for his beliefs. He passed away on May 15, 2000.

Grandmaster Ngo Dong brought cuong nhu to the United States in 1971 while studying for his PhD at the University of Florida. Dong started a cuong nhu club at the university, where it became quite popular. Later Dong also founded a school devoted to cuong nhu in Gainesville. From there cuong nhu spread throughout the United States and is still practiced today around the world.

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